Campaign for November levy votes heats up
Upper Arlington City Schools once again will face organized opposition while trying to pass an operating levy from the same group that led a grass-roots effort to defeat the district's request for a levy last November.
Educate UA recently released a "position paper" on Issue 52, the 4-mill continuing operating levy on the Nov. 5 ballot.
Joyce Blake, a former Upper Arlington teacher and member of Educate UA, said the group researched the new levy request over the summer.
"The cost-cutting the district has instituted has not addressed the underlying issue of wages greater than comparable school districts and benefits out of line with those obtainable in the private sector," she said.
During the campaign for the district's 5.8-mill operating levy that failed a year ago, Educate UA's campaign slogan was, "It's OK to Vote No on Issue 51."
District officials responded to the defeat of that levy by saying they heard the complaints about high costs per pupil and addressed it the only way they could - by cutting personnel costs.
The district cut about 30 staff positions and trimmed building budgets to realize about $3 million in savings.
Members of the pro-levy group, Citizens for UA Schools, said the district's "very lean request" of 4 mills this year is possible because of those cuts, which will result in a savings of $13.4 million over four years.
Another $4.5 million in budget reductions will be found through a four-year cost-efficiency plan, Superintendent Paul Imhoff said.
If approved by voters Nov. 5, Issue 52 would generate about $6.3 million per year for the district and would cost homeowners an additional $140 per year for every $100,000 in home value, said district Treasurer Andy Geistfeld.
District leaders recently released a contingency plan that indicated an additional 60 or more staff members could be cut over the next two years if the levy doesn't pass.
Blake said if the district had made "reasonable adjustments to the rate of growth of teaching compensation," 30 teaching positions could be saved.
"Threatening additional staff reductions is unwarranted, given the cost-saving opportunities available within the district," she said.
She said Educate UA members do not believe the district needs $6.3 million a year.
"Our analysis of the district's financials shows that through a combination of cost-cutting and anticipated revenue, the district's potential budget shortfall is just $700,000 per year," she said. "We maintain that the proposed levy of $6.3 million per year in new revenue far exceeds the needs of the district."
Geistfeld said he looked over Educate UA's position paper.
"The opposition's statements about reducing compensation after a levy failure in lieu of cutting positions are not possible," he said. "School districts do not have the ability to arbitrarily reduce salaries."
He said the figures outlined in the position paper "are incomplete and therefore incorrect."
"The school district is focused on five years, not just one year," he said.
He said the district's five-year forecast clearly shows the need for a levy in order to maintain educational programming through 2017-18.
"In fact, the forecast indicates the need for a higher millage amount, but the district launched a comprehensive efficiency plan in order to keep this request at 4 mills," he said. "The efficiency plan will utilize feedback from parents, residents and staff to find ways to streamline procedures and share services -- in other words, do more with less."
He said the average salary numbers in the position paper "are misleading."
"A district that happened to have a large number of retirements one year or a large influx of new teachers due to an increase in enrollment would likely see its average salary decrease," he said. "This would have nothing to do with changes to the salary schedule or staff concessions.
"If you look at proactive cost-avoidance measures in comparable districts like Bexley, Dublin and New Albany, you'll find Upper Arlington is right at the front of the pack with no increases to the salary schedule for two years," he said.
He said the district "must stay competitive" in order to attract and retain the highest-quality staff, but is addressing rising health insurance costs.
"The taxpayer cost for family medical plans in Upper Arlington is actually less than in districts like Dublin and Bexley," he said. "In addition, Upper Arlington staff members continue to pay more of the cost for their medical plans, with a 25-percent increase in the cost for teachers set to begin in January."
Learn more about the district campaign at ualevy.org.
The Educate UA website is at educateua.org.